Daybreak Exercises

As part of ramping up to finals, I’m trying to hop in a few extra lessons. The more time I can get my trainer’s eyes on me, the better!

So last week Trainer asked if I wanted to sneak in a weekend lesson. I naturally said, “Of course! As long as it isn’t at 7am or anything crazy like that ha ha ha” you can see where this is going.

Yep. The only time we could fit in was 7am on Sunday.

Like a dutiful idiot, I set my alarm for 5:45am and was bringing Francis in from the field by 6:30 (he’s currently on overnight turnout). He seemed a little confused that he wasn’t immediately getting his breakfast, but was surprisingly snuggly as I was tacking up. Apparently Morning Francis is extra happy.

7am barn
I gotta say, the barn is stunning at the crack of dawn.

Despite the early hour, this ended up being a fantastic lesson! It was a private lesson because I was the only one dumb enough to go along with Trainer’s demonic schemes great ideas so we got to focus in on some specific exercises for Frankie.

One of these is bending/counter-bending along with haunches-in/out on a smallish circle. Moving his bum and asking him to bend through his  body gets him connecting so much more solidly to that outside rein. I think part of that connection comes from physically asking his body to step under and respond to the aids, but part of it is mental- it tells him that he is not a trail pony today and he needs to engage. Once we get that connection and engagement in our trot work, the impulsion and pace throughout our canter and coursework improves noticeably.

We also had a great canter pole exercise set up: simply three poles on the ground. They were walked at about 3 strides apart, but slightly different distances. We worked on adjusting our stride in there: 3 strides to 3 strides, 3 strides to 4 strides, 4 strides to 4 strides, 4 strides to 3 strides. So hard, especially with the different distances between them!

The 3-3 was decent- we had to stay balanced to shorten/lengthen a little based on where we were, but nothing crazy. And the 4-4 was ok too- we just came in a little bouncier and held that shorter stride. The 3-4 was definitely hard- we had to really open up for the 3, but immediately ask to shorten in the second half which meant he had to be super tuned into my aids. And the 4-3 was tough too- we wanted to super-collect in strides 1-2 so stride 4 could be powerful enough to set us up for the 3 strides out.

All of these variations tied in so well with what we’ve been working on lately. The biggest thing is that when we collect and bounce through a turn, it allows me to push to the base instead of pulling to the base. And then suddenly the skies open up and the angels sing and Frankie jumps out of his skin and we land balanced and the world is a better place. So I was glad we got to work on an exercise to a) improve my ability to ask for different stride lengths and b) improve Frankie’s sensitivity to those cues so that I get a reaction more quickly.

On to the jumping! Man, I hate trot jumps. I’m not very good at them. I trotted a few x-rails without stirrups last week and Trainer mentioned that I wasn’t very good at it (she said it with love), and I reminded her that I’m not very good at them with stirrups either. Womp womp. Once we managed to fling ourselves over a crossrail with moderate success we moved on to build up the exercise.

And I LOVED this exercise.

7am lesson

 

So a rollback left turn to the end jump, right turn long approach down to the ivy barrels, left up the corner tree jump, bend left up the brick wall, and right turn across the same end jump, turning left to finish. Jumps were big enough to force an effort from Francis without being intimidating.

The first time was….ok. We ended up getting a little chippy to the ivy barrels since I didn’t keep us straight and packaged, which meant that we got a late change through the turn and the tree jump was a bit unorganized. Brick wall was fine, but I overshot my turn to the end jump and Frankie (god bless him) had to scramble a bit to get to the jump.

I made a really nice mixture of mistakes here- sometimes I held too much to the base, sometimes I kicked too much to the long spot, sometimes I faded left, sometimes I drifted right. I’m non-discriminatory in my bad riding.

So we talked about how to fix it. The main image to keep in my head was keeping Frankie on the tracks- straight laterally and connected between my leg and hand. Keeping that image definitely helped me smooth out our track and get more straightness.

The end jump to ivy worked out great- I picked him up and got him off my left leg through the turn, which let me send him up to the base. Because we were straighter and more balanced, we got an early change and a nicer turn to the tree. Brick wall was good, then I sliced the end jump a little right to left instead of trying to line it up straight. That meant our track from brick to end was smoother, and it meant that Frankie knew he was turning left afterwards. It still wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better than before!

While it was only 5 jumps and seems like a fairly simple exercise, this was a great test for us. We had to be able to manage tight turns and long approaches, upright verticals and wide fill, and pay attention to our basics- pace, straightness, and connection. Everything came up correctly when we had our basics covered. Funny how that works.

I would lesson again at 7am in a heartbeat! I didn’t realize how much I missed my private lessons.

I loved being doing by 8am too. I took my time cleaning my tack, went to Dunkin and grabbed coffee and doughnuts for the early bird crew, gave Frankie a super intense bath, and just had some bonding time with my horse. He so clearly thrives on that sort of attention and so do I.

Only two weeks until we’re on site for finals! Getting so excited.

Do you like to ride/lesson early in the mornings?

Return of the Lesson Review

A real, bona fide lesson review! With all the craziness going on lately I haven’t really talked in detail about our lessons as much as I used to. I’m excited to dive in a bit!

We’ve been able to ride in our outdoor pretty much every time lately and it. is. amazing. So much more room to spread out, less congestion in the ring, more options, great footing, I could  go on and on about how much we love this ring. The only minor gripe I have is that when the wind is blowing, it gets harder to hear my instructor calling out instructions. I swear it doesn’t take me that long to halt once I know I’m supposed to. But honestly that’s the only thing I can think of that isn’t amazeballs wonderful.

Frankie warmed up really nicely in this lesson- he got up in front of my leg, stayed pretty light in the bridle, and gave some nice bend through his body. I was trying to stay focused on straightness in my own body to help him out– I know that I get in his way pretty often and I’d like to be less terrible about that.

One exercise that I liked was canter-extend the gait- collect the gait-hand gallop-halt. We have a nice canter- I think it’s Frankie’s best gait naturally, and we’ve been able to get more “jump” in his stride over time- he extends calmly, our collections have gotten much stronger, and he hand gallops quite happily. That halt is HARD though. I’ve mentioned that our downward transitions need work and that was really highlighted here. It’s not that Frankie has anything against stopping (holding still is his second favorite thing, right after eating), but stopping well requires effort and MAHM NOOOO.

halting.gif
I like to help him out by throwing my upper body from side to side.

We warmed up over a small crossrail, and the only reason I mention this is because Frankie LAUNCHED over it the first time. Like, head between the knees staring at the jump as he popped 4′ in the air. Over the world’s tiniest crossrail. Because that was definitely the scariest biggest thing we’ve ever jumped.

Once we got that out of the way though, he was absolutely flippin’ fantastic. I had a lot more horse under me than I have lately- the cooler temps (it was down to 80F!) definitely helped, but I do think he’s responding well to our conditioning program as well. Some of the tighter spots actually ended up riding really nicely.

jul30_warmup
The trick for the first exercise was to slice 1 a little right to left, to bend us out towards the rail.

Our first exercise was a simple trot-in-canter-out bending line at 10 strides. We wanted to shape it enough to let us line both jumps up perpendicularly, while maintaining a direct enough track to get exactly 10. That was definitely tough for me- I’m not great at counting past 7 or 8 in a line and this forced me to emphasize straightness and rhythm.

crossrailline
This is the crossrail he launched. You can tell how he really hung on to that tension.
july30_course1
Long course alert!

Next we did the same bending line (in 9 once we started to canter in), up the single on the long side, down the one-stride combo, inside turn to get back around to the end jump, left to continue over the brick wall towards home, up the ivy barrels bending out over natural, red vertical bending out over tree jump.

cutejump
Brick wall towards home rode really nicely every time

That dang combo gave me no end of trouble. I would land off of the red vertical and have a strung out horse, and I didn’t work hard enough to wrestle him back into some semblance of a balanced stride. It got moderately better but I need to work harder there.

That inside turn got a whole heck of a lot smoother when I shifted both hands to the inside. That made it a lot more clear to Frankie where exactly I wanted him to go- we all know that he’s happy to do anything as long as I’m clear about what that is.

I hadn’t walked either of those last two lines/Trainer hadn’t mentioned what they should be, but both ended up being sixes, albeit of different stride lengths (a flowing 6 for the ivy-natural, and a more controlled 6 for the red-tree). Frankie listened really well in both places when I asked for him to rate forward and back.

jul30_course2

Our last course was as follows: end jump, left over brick, right over tree; up the combo; down red to tree; up ivy; break to trot and out over the skinny.

That blasted combo gave me just as much trouble in this direction. I had decided I wanted a closer spot in but just kinda….took my leg off and did nothing. BECAUSE THAT’S USUALLY THE RIGHT ANSWER.

badcombo
Yeah, doing nothing and letting my horse bail me out is definitely sustainable.

The other tough part here was the trot jump. I already mentioned that I had more horse under me than usual, and so the first time through this it ended up looking like ivy jump-canter-canter-trotWHATNOCANNOT-ittybitty canter-skinny jump-snort because we are very pleased with ourselves.

trotjump
I don’t know what this was, but it was not a trot jump.

Yeah, we went back and tried that again- this time with a few actually discernible trot steps that weren’t fading completely left. This was another valuable exercise for us, and again highlighted those downwards transitions.

trotjump_2
It got…better? Even if it still wasn’t quite trotting.

We need to strike a balance between getting Frankie fired up to the jumps, while still tuned in to me and responsive to my cues. We’re pretty good at both separately- we just need to put those pieces together so that we can have snorty happy pony who also knows how to trot in a straight line.

I can always tell when Frankie is thinking hard about the work we’re doing when he starts (1) prancing at the walk (2) asking to canter before I tell him to and (3) getting SUPER round and soft onto the bit and offering a lot of collection. It’s a great feeling to get that sort of mental and physical engagement from him.

spicy
EXCEPT CAN YOU GIVE ME A DANG SECOND TO PICK UP MY REINS YA DINGUS

So areas to focus on: downwards transitions, getting our stride back instead of getting strung out, and generally trying to be better at this whole “riding” thing.

What have you been working on lately?

 

What’s New, Francis?

I anticipated some sluggishness from Frankie for a little bit due to the increased training workload, but homeboy has been a star!

I’ve been conquering my fear of trail rides at least 1-2x a week lately, and he is one happy camper. We can have golf carts zoom up our butt (our barn is in a golf course community, so they’re a pretty common sight), bunnies hurl themselves across our path, helicopters flying overhead, and he keeps bopping around on the buckle barely flicking an ear. I’ve been making a point to seek out hills to do trot sets on, and he is just as relaxed as he is at the walk. This is nothing new for him and he’s demonstrated his steadiness on trails before, but getting out there more consistently has been great for my own confidence outside the ring- you all know that I’m a huge baby in unconfined spaces.

trailride_ears
You can definitely tell from his ears just how hot and electric he is. 

In our lesson two weeks ago, it was unbearably hot. Absolutely brutal. But like the unicorn he is, Frankie went around the ring and didn’t put a foot wrong. He needed a little more support from me to get that energetic canter we’re always searching for, but we were able to focus on straightness through his body to get some really nice efforts. Considering I saw a lot of other horses exhibiting some tantrum behavior that day due to the heat (I can’t even blame them), it was that much sweeter to have Frankie going so consistently. As usual, I found my pace somewhere in the middle of my course- I need to get that off the bat instead of taking 2-3 jumps to manufacture it. It’s another case of Frankie giving me exactly what I ask for and not an inch more or less. When I ask, I receive. It’s about time I get my head out of my butt and ask already.

He’s also been rising to the occasion in our flatwork sessions. I’ve been making a point to ask for more consistent contact with plenty of stretch breaks, instead of the other way around. I’ve been throwing in more counter-canter to help develop some better balance and feel around our turns, which has been going quite well. I’m working on asking more deliberately for my leads and helping him re-balance using my seat instead of my hands. We’ve also been trying to include lots of downwards transitions- he’s very prompt with his upwards transitions (as long as he’s in front of my leg HAH), but likes to dive on his forehand into his downwards. I’m focusing on keeping his weight rocked back so that we can move forwards into the downwards, instead of him pulling me forward out of the tack. This has a ways to go to be really consistent, but I’m confident we’ll get there.

room_art
Unrelated but I just love all the different things I have up on my walls. Yes, that small one is a print of Paul Revere on a velociraptor. And no, I’m not sorry for having 3023498 books by my bed.

This week Frankie was absolutely 100% My Little Pony. It was a bit of a rough week for a couple reasons (Manfriend is a cop now and scary situations come with the territory- he’s totally fine but I’m still a bit shaken) and I was feeling a little emotionally raw. Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing, but I swear Frankie could tell. He was SUPER snuggly and affectionate on the ground and was such an ultimate packer in my lesson.  Of course he’s always sweet and a good boy, but this was some next level love. It really felt like he was checking in with me every few minutes to make sure I was doing ok. We’ll get back to training harder shortly, but I’m grateful that we had a day of horse therapy where I was able to rely entirely on my horse and trust that he would take care of me.

In non-riding related Frankie news, I finally bit the bullet and put him on a Smartpak. His hooves aren’t in great shape due to the crap weather this year- he’s been in glue-ons and pads up front for a few cycles now and has basically a prosthetic reconstructed hoof on his right front (LOL BYE MONEY)- so he’s starting a hoof supplement. I figured as long as I’m tossing stuff in his feed we may as well toss in a joint supplement too- I’m not completely sold on the effectiveness, but it can’t hurt and at this point I’m willing to throw every tool in the toolbox at him. If it supports his joints even marginally, that’s worth it to me. When I made the mistake of complaining, “but he used to be so low maintenance!” to AT, she not-so-gently reminded me that we get to do a lot of cool stuff we couldn’t do before, and that comes with increased care. Touche.

upp_sun_purple
We could not do this last year.

The short version of all of this is that we’re working hard and having fun doing it. I’m feeling confident that we’re setting ourselves up for success for our show at the end of August and beyond!

We Lessoned!

For the first time in about a month, I actually jumped my pony over colorful sticks!

OHGOD
This is pretty much all I’ve done for the last month. Toodle.

Nothing crazy- some grid work with placing poles to inspire straightness and encourage a good effort over the jumps. Seeing as Francis thinks lifting his shoulders and picking up his knees and rounding over his back over jumps is like OMG SO DUMB, this was a fantastic exercise for him.

And a fantastic exercise for me too- I didn’t have to worry about remembering courses, finding a distance, or doing much of anything besides work on my own position. Professional diagram below:

gymnastic_april

So trot in to the crossrail, one SHORT stride to the oxer, then one bigger stride to the vertical out. Poles to keep us straight to the oxer, then straightening poles over the vertical. Then a pole after the vertical because FRANCIS STOP SUCKING OUT TO THE WALL.

The added poles were really what made this grid work so well for us- that first stride to the oxer was super short. As in, the first time through we definitely bounced it. #18footstride. No bueno.

The trick was to get a short powerful trot in, so that he could land close to the crossrail and put in a nice short stride there. That channel created by the poles forced him to keep his body straight and not give himself extra room by bulging to either side. Homeboy actually had to pick himself up.

Then I LOVED the straightening poles over the last fence. You’ve all seen pictures of Frankie jumping- homeboy is athletic enough and is happy to jump anything, but he doesn’t have the most…classical…technique. As in, he jumps like a llama.

But the V-poles here really forced him to pick his shoulders up and stay completely straight, instead of leaning to either side. And while I don’t have media, I could feel him jumping SO CUTE. When your horse typically jumps like a drunk alpaca, it’s pretty easy to feel the difference. It’s such a nicer motion to stay with- I could let him push me up out of the saddle and give a really generous release instead of trying to figure out where the center of balance is and keeping a feel because lord knows we’re going to land in a heap and we need all the communication we can get right now so help me.

The pacing of this exercise was also something I needed to work on- you really had to ride one jump at a time (no kidding Olivia, that’s what we call “progressing through time.”) But what I mean is that the timing of the aids had to be more precise here.

That first stride was very short. Meaning we could not canter in, we could not beast-trot in (that’s an official dressage term btw). We had to get a powerful, short, straight, elastic trot in and keep shoulders up to collect the first stride. And then over the oxer I needed to PRESS and land moving for the bigger stride. If I asked too early for the bigger stride, I made Frankie’s life harder to the oxer. If I asked too late, I made his life harder to the vertical. If I timed it properly, I set him up for success at both jumps.

Side note- I love that even after doing grids for almost 20 years, there’s still so much to think about and consider even when they’re simple like this. Grids 4 lyfe.

After going through a couple times successfully- proving that it wasn’t just a fluke- I asked to be done a little early so we could end on a really good note. I needed a win after dealing with some stress at work lately, and Francis delivered. Because he is literally the best horse on the planet and if you disagree I will fight you in real life.

selfie
I have never related so hard in my life

I have to give a HUGE shoutout to Assistant Trainer here too. She’s been putting some pro rides on Frankie lately while I’ve taken a break from lessoning and it is seriously so noticeable. He always WANTS to give me the right answer, and she does such a great job of explaining to him what that right answer is. I’m incredibly grateful that I could take a month-long break from doing anything besides toodling, hop back on my horse, and have him more educated and fit than he was when we left off.

We didn’t do anything super crazy with this lesson- none of the jumps were very big at all- but it was the perfect way to knock some of the rust off. Frankie was happy, he jumped cute, I was less jiggly/loose in the tack than I anticipated I’d be, we worked up a good sweat, I loosened up some of the knots in my neck and back, and overall I count this as a successful therapy session. Bonus points that it was good training for both of us.

Star Lord and Abraham Lincoln

Frankie has earned both of these names so far this week.

You know those rides where everything seems to go right? Where you get consistency and straightness and fantastic effort and a whole bunch of things you’ve been working on start clicking into place and you feel like “wow, I’m actually a halfway decent rider” and stars and rainbows flash  before your eyes?

And you know those rides where your horse truly has to earn his oats by packing your butt around, because your body flails around and you can’t half-halt to save your life and don’t see a distance ever and your leg is swinging back and forth like you’re doing the hokey-pokey and you start to think “oh my god I am terrible at this sport” and the poop emoji flashes before your eyes?

Have you ever had both of those rides, one day after the other? BECAUSE THIS WEEK HAS ALREADY BEEN A ROLLERCOASTER FOR ME.

I’ll start with the hearts and stars ride: Monday. Things are quiet with half the barn gone to Florida, so I ended up having the whole ring to myself. Obviously this meant it was time to play some tunes.

Pro tip: the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1 album not only has great tunes on it, but is almost exactly 45 minutes. AKA perfect for my warm up-work-cool down session I had planned. 10/10, would recommend.

awesome mix.gif

I spent a good amount of time just asking for a forward trot on a very loose rein. I used that time to do some of my own exercises- half set, stand straight up, no stirrups, etc. All Frankie had to do was stay forward and straight, and he could stretch down as much as he wanted. Being a peanut roller at heart, Francis took full advantage of this and dragged his nose through the dirt around the ring.

Once we were both limbered up and moving out, I started to ask for a bit more connection. And a bit more. And as I worked all sorts of different patterns and did extensions-collections around the ring, I slowly picked him up more and more.

Um. My horse is HANDSOME. Turns out that when I take my time and really warm him up to it, we get amazingly consistent steady contact with lift, good bend throughout his body, sensitivity to the aids, and all over unicorn status. Engaging all his muscles and he felt STRONG.

muscle-strong
v v strong

Canter work was equally fantastic- our collections actually had some OOMPH to them. And then our transitions! Our downwards transitions are notoriously dull and not-so-prompt. But on Monday, they were crisp and forward into the transition and UGH SO GOOD. Basically every step Francis took on Monday was complete magic.

baby-groot
sweet, sweet magic

I felt like the next Danny Emerson, I am such a genius amazing and watch me coax this wonderful flatwork out of my boy. I had completely lost track of time and was so caught up in our work, I felt so energized! And then I hopped off and realized OMG OW MY BODY OH LORD HELP ME. Because it turns out that asking for all this great work required crazy core engagement and strong legs. I just hadn’t noticed at the time because I was so excited about our work.

flatwork_mon
Clearly you can tell how great he was from our mirror selfie.

Which brings us to Tuesday: lesson day with the guest trainer. Let me start us off with the last thing he said to me as I left the ring post-lesson:

“You have a very honest horse there. He saves you a lot, doesn’t he? Maybe you should help him out more.”

And that’s a very accurate assessment of how that lesson went: Frankie was his usual sweet self, and I could. Not. Do. Anything. Like, at all.

dancing-potato

This is not to say that we had a totally tragic lesson and I ruined my horse- we certainly had some good moments in there and as mentioned, Frankie went really well.

But honestly, I haven’t ridden this poorly in months. My legs hung there uselessly instead of supporting, my core was a marshmallow so my half-halts were literally nothing, my heels were up-down-sideways-everywhere, I was hunched and crooked and chased my horse at jumps and then picked to the base and holy crap. It was like ok maybe things are going well PSYCH I am awful.

potato-face

It was a shame, because I really liked the exercise this trainer had us work through: a few rollbacks, a few bending lines, a few singles on a long approach, and then a triple combo, all set low and all done in both directions. It was great for asking a variety of questions of the horses without being terribly complicated. Frankie rocked it without my help.

So chalk it up to soreness, chalk it up to laziness, chalk it up to nerves in front of a new trainer, chalk it up to whatever you want: I was a bag person up top. As in, I looked like I was created entirely out of burlap bags.

Ah well. Tons of pats for pony, and we’ll try again later.

potato-vodka

 

Make That Booty Werk

Oh man, guys. We are asking Francis to work his butt a little harder and it’s really really fun. It’s so noticeable how much these different exercises are encouraging him to use his body better and I’m pretty giddy about riding him and feeling him get better and better.

I headed to the barn on Monday planning on a pretty decent flatwork session, but didn’t have a big plan for what we would work on- my go-to right now is transitions since ours need sharpening for sure. But Assistant Trainer was there and set up a bunch of ground poles, so pole-day it was!

Plus side of Francis: poles do not bother him at all (I mean honestly, nothing bothers him let’s be real here), so I never worry about him trying to back off or speed through poles.

Minus side of Francis: poles do not bother him at all, so he’s not awfully concerned about keeping track of his feet.

So my role in this partnership as we trotted through was to keep my leg on to generate the impulsion, and then keep a steady hand for balance. The following pattern was set up in the ring, along with a few single poles on the diagonal that I didn’t include, so sue me:

feb_canter-poles

The poles along the long side were a simple exercise: forward and straight. The poles in the corner made it so you could stay out and put a few more steps in between the two, or stay closer in and push for fewer steps. We alternated a couple times between the two, trying to find the right balance of pressing up while keeping a consistent rhythm.

canter_poles
OH DEAR GOD FRANCIS TAKE THE WHEEL

And then it was time to canter the poles! We started with 3 in a row set to bounce them, then added more and more until we were bouncing through all six in a row. The corner exercise remained, where we could either put one full stride between the two, or stay in and bounce them around the turn.

So I don’t know about you guys, but I have a weird anxious energy about ground pole exercises. I would 100% rather put the jumps up to any height instead of having to canter poles on the ground. Luckily Frankie does not share this anxiety, and was really really good throughout these exercises in both directions.

I did have to take a bit firmer contact so that he didn’t try to get flat through the bounces- they were set a little shorter than he would’ve liked, which was FANTASTIC for sitting him down on his butt to push. And that corner exercise forced him to pay attention to where his hind feet were doing as he pushed out of the turn. It definitely helped force a little of that “explode out of the turn” feeling we’re always trying to develop.

After working through this a couple times each direction, I could feel Frankie pick himself up and soften onto my hand. It was a very very cool feeling to have that elastic energy under me to play with.

Then on Tuesday we had our lesson! Fairly basic warmup on the flat, then we did some more canter poles, set on the quarter line as a one stride-bounce-one stride exercise. We needed a lot more power from behind to have the energy for this- Trainer played Flight of the Bumblebees for me as I went through as a reminder to get that canter more active. In other news, I now demand a soundtrack for every exercise.

Trainer then slowly built up each element of the gymnastic until it looked like this:

feb_gymnastic

Placing pole, crossrail, one stride, crossrail bounce, one stride, oxer out.

The rule was trot in then press out. This was tough for Frankie! As a not-super-fiery kinda dude, he really didn’t want to work hard through this, especially when the jumps were little. We had to play around with our pace coming in- I wanted to help him out by pressing forward in, but then he inevitably put in a canter step before takeoff. I had to be very conscious to get a nice short powerful trot in and then SQUEEZE through the rest of the exercise to get him going.

We then added a halt after the oxer, with the goal being to halt in a straight line. This took three tries! Frankie really was NOT expecting to have to stop so soon after opening up for that oxer. The goal with this was to be able to go from a short powerful trot, to bigger powerful canter, back to a halt very quickly: pushing the range of adjustability that we’re looking for. We love that Frankie is not a sensitive horse for so many reasons, but we do want him sensitive enough to react to my adjustments more quickly than he currently does.

This exercise actually went much more smoothly once the last oxer went up in height, forcing Frankie to pay attention. Once he realized he could go big jumpiez he perked right up and carried me through the grid with less work on my part.

And the last time through the grid felt SO good. I didn’t have to work to push him through because he had great up-and-down- energy to adjust himself. And that last oxer, OMG. He picked his back up and used his neck and rounded up and over the jump, and really jumped up to me instead of me having to presspresspress across it. I wish I had a pic of that jump because it honestly felt like one of the best efforts he’s ever given me. You should’ve seen the big fat grin on my face 😀

It was also cool to feel him develop that same elasticity over the course of the lesson- he really picked his poll up and sought the contact, and started asking me for forward instead of the other way around. I honestly think he likes his job a lot- he’s kinda a slug on the flat and when the jumps are little, but when we raise the expectations he starts getting excited about his work. Gawd he’s so cool.

As previously mentioned, the barn heads down to Florida this weekend! Luckily, Trainer has found someone to come in and teach lessons while she is gone- it’s been a long time since I trained with someone else, so I’m excited to see what new perspectives he’ll have for us. And of course, I’m excited to share with you.

Other random exciting news: Trainer is expanding the outdoor ring even more than she had originally planned, and the footing has been ordered. It looks like Memorial Day is the target completion date for the whole project and I am SO FREAKIN’ EXCITED. It’ll be totally amazeballs to have a nice big ring to set some nice big jumps in 😉 I’ll have to start taking some progress pics so you can see the transformation.

Do you have any go-to groundpole exercises?

Big Stretches

You know that post-show hangover? Yeah, that was Monday for me. So tired. So sore. Ded.

But then Tuesday dawned with that most wondrous of feelings: Second Day Sore. SDS. I was a decrepit little hobbit around the office all day, and I know my lesson that afternoon would be dicey.

Luckily, the the no-stirrup work and gymnastics we did actually stretched me out and helped my muscles recover that much faster- score!

Our private lessons have come to an end due to scheduling conflicts, so I’m getting back into the zone of semi-privates once more. Our flatwork was nothing crazy- lots of extensions and collections within gaits, making sure we got a prompt response to my cues and were controlling that shoulder around our turns (both his AND mine).

Frankie felt really great! Forward, working over his back as he warmed up, balanced. I think the rest day and the slightly warmer temperatures put him in his happy place because he was really a pleasure to ride (I mean….he always is….but yeah he was great).

We kept the exercises fairly straightforward for the jumping phase. For a while we just worked through a simple grid: trot in crossrail-one stride-vertical-one stride-oxer. It never got very high and it was more to allow me to focus on my own position through the exercise. Then we did a little gymnastic-y type course:

jan31_gymnastic

So gymnastic up the long side, cut across the middle, up the bending line red to skinny in a straightforward 4, down the one stride combo, then up the oxer to barrel bending out in 4 or 5.

My goal through the gymnastic was to stay still with my shoulders, keep my leg on while staying in a light seat, and focus on straightness through my entire body all the way through. Over the middle jump 2, we sliced it a little bit and then tried to hug jump 1A to give us plenty of space to make the turn to 3. The 4 stride was very steady- neither forward nor holding- and Frankie locked onto the skinny early on so no problems there. We had to cowboy up out of the corner a bit for the one stride, then balance around for the last bending line. The first two times we galloped out in four strides, then went back and shaped and held for the five.

Overall nothing crazy! The jumps stayed low and none of the striding was tricky. Much more focus on my own equitation and playing with our tracks to see how different tracks affect our overall course. It was honestly pretty relaxing! Happy horse, straightforward exercises, stretching my tired muscles and his.

We’ll have one more lesson next week before the barn heads down to Florida, then we’ll be on a mini-vacation. Trainer mentioned that she maaaaay get someone to come teach while she’s gone, so we’ll see if our flatwork sessions will have a lesson thrown in there. As much as I wish I could go down the Florida with them, it will be nice to have a quieter ring to work in- it’s tough to do as much lateral work and pole work as I’d like with all the lesson kids sharing the indoor this time of year.

The outdoor ring is currently under expansion and should be GORGEOUS with brand new footing later in the spring- I really can’t wait for the weather to turn so we can ride outside more!!! Also so I can consistently feel my toes and not feel like a marshmallow in 10,000 layers. But also to ride outside.

The High Schoolies

I was able to take a makeup lesson this weekend despite the STUPID FREAKIN COLD WEATHER, so of course I jumped at the chance (HAH FUN PUN). I may or may not have asked my Trainer if she was going to cancel lessons the day of, but I bundled up and braved the cold.

This ended up being a group lesson with the three of us competing in the High Child/Adults this season- two of us ammies, and our superstar junior. Despite LOVING my private lessons, this was a great chance to learn from watching some super talented riders- and my trainer was happy she could just put the jumps up and leave them there for the duration of the lesson.

Warmup was slow and steady to get us all accustomed to the cold. We spent the first 20-30 minutes just focused on getting our muscles moving and letting our lungs adjust. Lots of lengthening and shortening within the gaits, with frequent change of rein. Francis didn’t have the same elastic-ness that he often does these days- but can you blame him?? It was disgusting out. Like the total bro that he is, he showed up to work and did his best.

We warmed up slowly over fences too, doing plenty of crossrails to get our backs working. We also did a trot-in-canter-out bending line to play with stride length.

Then it was time for a warmup course with the jumps set low:

jan_high-schooling_1

Bear with me through this recap, a couple jumps moved/changed. But to start we simply did outside single, diagonal oxer, up the diagonal in a forward three strides, and then down the combo in a balancing two.

That three stride proved to be a really useful exercise for us- Frankie is not naturally a “spicy” horse, so he doesn’t land and rev. Which is totally great in a lot of ways: I never worry about him landing and taking off. BUT. We do want him to land and continue instead of landing and saying “well I hope that’s it for me.” A friend commented that she was really surprised when she rode him because in videos he looks like a pretty forward ride over fences. He is not. He is happy to go forward, but only when told. So having that forward line to practice landing and GOING was something we really needed.

Trainer then put the jumps up to a decent height and we did the following course:

jan_high-schooling_2

Cut through the quarter line to get to the oxer, up the bending line in a balanced five, down the single oxer, up the forward three, down the combo again- this time with an oxer in- and finishing on the single brick. Or something like this. My video is showing me that I’m wrong, but something like this ended up happening eventually and I already saved the jump diagram, so you’re going to have to deal with the fact that I’m knowingly lying to you.

Overall not too bad! I needed to balance a little more in that five to even out the striding, I didn’t support enough with my leg over the single oxer, we got a bit of a launcher over the oxer into the combo, and Frankie tried to blow through my hand so we ended up popping up a chip to the last jump. So not great either. But manageable. I simply was not as present as I needed to be up top as we navigated the course, so Frankie was left to his own devices a few times. I would defend myself by saying I could feel neither my fingers nor my feet, but let’s be honest: this is a problem even when I have full feeling.

Our last course:

jan_high-schooling_3

Up the brick to start, down the outside line in a pretty standard three strides, up the bending in the balanced five, down the single oxer, up the forward three, and down the outside 2-stride.

This felt better! Definitely not without some sticky points, but definitely more active and present. We got a nice gallop up to the first brick and then backed up into the short end before revving up to the outside line. Funny enough- we had been doing so many bending lines and singles that Frankie assumed he should turn out of the line. He was happy to continue out over the oxer when I put my left leg on, but that was definitely not his assumption. Balancing around the tight turn back to 4 and then sitting back for the five strides (which was def tight), and then I was thrilled with our straightness and pace to the yellow oxer- for sure our best jump. I got him a little tight to the line and we had to cowboy out for the three (good practice!)- I sat back too soon over the green wall which caused a hind rail- and then we came out pretty nicely in the two- this started feeling tighter and tighter as the jumps went up and we carried more pace, and we knocked the rail the first time through.

jan_lesson_yellow.jpg
OK so we’re not going in the hunter ring, but this is pretty cute as far as Francis-style-jumping goes

We ended up going back one last time to just do the last 4 jumps: the three stride diagonal to the combo. I was happier with our balance and pace there. We came in pretty tight to the combo and still managed to make it out in one piece: our big project is getting Frankie more comfortable with the tight spot and I’m so proud of his progress here!

We then got to watch our superstar junior jump 4’6″ and I was really weirdly proud of her. Not my child, not my horse. But like, I was vicariously jumping that through her and she rocked it with picture perfect eq. I want to be like that 17 year old girl when I grow up.

Overall: we had our sticky spots that we need to work on. I need to be more present and active from the get-go instead of taking a course or two to warm up to it. I need to support Frankie more when I ask for the closer spots, since he will always jump it but is MUCH happier if I help him out. I need to adjust my timing so that I can recover quickly after the jumps, without causing hind rails. Lots of homework.

But my horse also jumped like a freak and kept the same ears-perked-but-also-flopping expression as the jumps went up and up and up. We were able to get out of the sticky spots more quickly and more easily than we could even just two months ago.

frankie_jumpingfreak
One time I can actually comment on height: we know that the wood kickboard sticks at 4′, so clearly the 1.10m will not pose a problem for him.

I sound like a broken record and I sound like a sap, but I’m going to keep saying it: I am incredibly grateful to get to learn and progress with this horse. He’s the most patient and wonderful teacher I could ever ask for and hold on I’m literally crying as I write this because GAWD I’m obsessed with my horse. He is the coolest.

jan_lesson_canter
And he be super cute too.

As a treat: here’s the video from our lesson, so you can see said sticky spots. The vain part of me wanted to edit out the icky parts, but hey, THAT’S WHAT INSTAGRAM IS FOR. But actually. Enjoy the honest version here. I will continue to watch this over and over and sob quietly about what a saint my pony is.

Any tips on developing that landing-softly-but-not-too-soon feeling?

My Horse is a Prince and My Life is a Lie

We’ll start out with the part where my horse is a prince and get to the lying later on.

We had our first lesson of the new year! I hadn’t ridden in almost 2 weeks (one brief hack in there doesn’t reeeeally count), but one of our junior riders flatted Frankie around for me while I was out of town. 10/10, would recommend barn rat usage to all people. So the only one feeling flabby and out of shape after the holidays was me!

Naturally, Trainer had me do a decent amount of no-stirrup work. She said “sorry” at first, but I told her to take that back, we both knew she wasn’t sorry. Lots of circles and changing rein and changing the bend helped keep my mind off that oh-so-pleasant burning sensation in my legs and core.

We also played around more with our shoulder-in which has developed very nicely, and then worked on that leg yield exercise I told you about before, where we leg yield diagonally down the long side. I’ll wait here if you want to review the professional diagram I made of that.

This exercise has come a long way! I’ve been able to keep his haunch in off the wall and give little corrections to keep his body straight. I still have to exaggerate my aids a bit, but they get a reaction more crisply and more quickly. My homework is to continue working on our lateral work and get that shoulder and haunch more precisely where I want them. We’re really happy with how well Frankie is retaining and progressing with these movements- he may be solid bone between the ears, but he truly is supremely trainable and wants to please.

No crazy canter exercises in this lesson, just a couple large-ish circles and extension-collection exercises to get us tuned in and listening. He felt absolutely fantastic in his canter work- up and light in the bridle, round over his back, listening well. We kicked it up into a hand-gallop for those extensions but he still came right back to collect. Good pony!

We warmed up over a crossrail end jump a few times going to the right….and every single time we landed the left lead, no matter how strongly I asked for the right in the air. So we cantered it and angled it to ask even harder for the lead, then went back and trotted it again. Bam. Right lead. He just needed a little louder message on that one. Of course, he then proceeded to land the right lead after EVERY jump for the next 5 minutes, but we’re working on it.

We built up our course in pieces, here’s the diagram:

jan_sturns

The first exercise was trot in 1, canter out 2 in a bright five strides. Not much of a story here- we had to be nice and forward to the first jump in order to kick up for the five.

Next was 3-4-5: trot in the end jump, hard left for the yellow, then s-turn to the corner vertical in a balancing 5. The key was looking over 3 and leading with that left rein to get us looking where we were going, and then holding out and shaping to make 4-5 fit in more evenly.

Next we did 6-7-8: canter up the quarter line, bend out in a waiting 5, then down the single gate. The five was a little tight but not terrible when this exercise was done alone, but it got much tighter when this was at the end of the course. Single gate was….a single gate. Not much to say there.

Then the jumps went up and we put it all together! 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. Corner vertical bending up the outside in a balancing five (now cantering in), then immediate left over the end jump, hard left over the yellow oxer, s-turn out back over the corner vertical in a shaped five, immediate turn up the quarter line oxer, bending out in a collected five, and ending down the single gate.

Overall, I was very happy with how this rode. We were able to get a nice conservative distance to one, which set us up to rock back for the five. The turn to the end jump came up fairly easily, and once I remembered to look where I was going and start the turn over the jump, the yellow oxer came up nicely too. We shaped out for the five and jumped the left side of 5 to give us a little extra room to get to the quarter line, and sat back for the bending line. And then the single gate continued to just be a single gate. Whatevs.

We did end up doing 4-5-6-7 one more time to practice that turn from the corner to the quarter line- once I got back with my shoulders and sat my butt in the saddle like ze Germans this rode up really powerfully and I could feel Francis jumping the heck out of that green oxer. Of course then I was excited and galloped out in four, but we made it work.

Overall, a fantastic lesson to kick off 2017! We did discuss bumping up to a slow twist- not because we want to slow Frankie down, but because we want a titch more responsiveness for those turns. Now that my legs are stronger and Frankie has developed some of that jumper-fiery-fitness, we’re going to play around so I can be lighter with my hands.

Now on to the whole “my life is a lie” part of the story. As I finished up my lesson, the following conversation ensued:

Me: Thank you so much for a great start to the year! And thank you for not putting the jumps up too high, I’m glad you’re easing me in after the break.
Trainer: …..you realize part of that course was 3’6″, right? You really have no idea how big jumps are, do you?
Me: HAH awesome. Then props to me for not being intimidated by 3’6″. Big progress! Less than a year ago, 3’6″ was the biggest I had EVER jumped, and even that was only once or twice.
Trainer: And look at you now, jumping 4′!
Me: ….you said 3’9″.
Trainer: Well the course overall was set to 3’9″, but some of those jumps were 4′.

So I officially quit. I give up. I completely give up on knowing how big the jumps are. From now on, I will no longer even attempt to estimate what we’re jumping unless we are at a show and someone officially tells me what the deal is. Because clearly I have no earthly idea what’s going on.

Womp womp. Extra big pats for pony for not even blinking and dealing with my ammy mistakes every day ❤

We have another lesson this weekend where Trainer said she would jack the jumps up, and all I want in this world is to get some media from it. Private lessons are great, but it means I haven’t been able to get pics/videos of our rides in over a month and I’d love to be able to review our progress! Maybe I can coerce a barn rat….

My question for you today: How do you get media of your riding when you’re the only one in the ring? I need your tricks!

Moving Sideways and Moving Up

Startlingly enough, I actually have a lot to say about the flatwork we did in our lesson this week. I know, I know, usually it’s “blah blah blah warmup stuff then JUMPS,” so this will be a bit of a departure.

I’ve mentioned lately that Frankie and I have worked a bunch on our shoulder-in. And it’s really come together nicely! He’s already well schooled on it- I just had to learn how to ask properly.

So we decided to switch things up and work on strengthening our leg-yields. We’re pretty solid at coming down the quarter-line and leg yielding out to the wall, so Trainer decided to switch it up and make it hard for us: bring his haunch in off the wall, and then leg-yield diagonally down the long side. As thus:

wall_legyield
Pretend that potato-looking thing is a horse, this is about the limit of my Paint skills.

So the wall is essentially blocking any attempts to evade forward. I set this up getting the counter-bend through the corner, asked his haunch to move over….and Frankie very promptly gave me a BEAUTIFUL shoulder-in (or should I say shoulder-out since it was towards the outside).

Like, he wasn’t confused or anything. He was very pleased that he knew exactly what he was doing. Except Francis, there are other things besides shoulder-in.

We came back to the walk and worked on communicating the whole haunches-in-straighten-your-body-yes-that-means-you-have-to-cross-over-I-know-it’s-hard-but-please thing. It took a few tries, but I could really feel him thinking, and we eventually got some great steps!

So we stepped back up into the trot (this was all done sitting without irons, so I could get a nice deep feel) and tried again. I’ll freely admit that at one point, Frankie bumped his nose into the wall because I wasn’t indicating “sideways” enough and he is such a pure soul that he tried to go forward through a wall for me. Dear sweet boy. But we got some good effort and a couple great steps! This will be a work in progress but I can definitely feel when we get it right.

Side note: all this sitting deep and pushing sideways had the effect of getting Frankie really up into the bridle. It felt great.

We did some regular canter work to get him moving- big circles and such, and he was feeling nice and light on my hand. Trainer had us start developing our counter-canter this week too, which is new for us. The key with Frankie was to keep his stride nice and collected, since he really wanted to dive down and get strung out off balance. He is more than happy to gallop around on the wrong lead- getting him to collect and balance for a true, nice counter-canter was a bit more effort for him.

To work on this we did a fun figure-8 exercise: Pick up the correct lead, then come across the diagonal to change direction while holding the same lead, come around the short end on the counter-lead, then go back across the diagonal to change direction and be on the correct lead. We did this in both directions and it went well! Frankie has a fairly easy change when you ask but it isn’t auto by any stretch. Which honestly, I prefer. This way I can choose exactly which lead I want him to be on no matter which direction we’re going, and can only ask for the change when I really want it.

Trainer and I are thinking that if I qualify for Regionals early enough, Frankie and I might go play in the eq ring once I’m not having to chase points. So we gotta get that counter-canter and lateral work polished up!

Trainer also made a great point- in the winter when we can’t jump as much, lateral work is going to help keep Frankie fit and muscled for his job. I also like this because it’s something I can work hard on between lessons when we’re flatting together.

NOW we can talk about the jumps. But you don’t get a Powerpoint diagram today because that whole Paint diagram thing took all my artistic skill for the day. I’ll recover soon. Probably.

But really, we didn’t do anything crazy course-wise. A couple diagonal jumps, a bending line in four short strides, a one-stride combo then bending out in three strides. Trainer did put the jumps up pretty high once I was warmed up, so that felt great. And I’m not sure what “pretty high” means to be honest- coulda been 3’3″, coulda been 3’6″, coulda been 2’9″ for all I know. They looked bigger than what we usually do so I’m guessing around 3’6″? I’ve learned not to ask.

nov_oxer
Big enough that the Beast had to put in an actual effort to get over it

But I really do prefer the bigger jumps on Francis- when he puts in more effort, I find it a lot easier to keep my leg tight and stay centered. Like his motion pushes me into the right spot.

nov_plank
Well maybe not the right spot. But a BETTER spot.

We discussed how I need to recover a lot faster after each jump- I tend to take a full stride after landing to recover and that’s like 16′ into a line. Not OK. Trainer wants me to think of standing up in my irons as we land- not sitting back down in the tack, but stretching up. This is the first time in my life that I’m jumping big enough that there’s a “landing phase” instead of just putting feet down so it’s going to be developing muscle memory. I plan to watch a lot of Beezie and McLain to see how they move their bodies on that larger scale.

I’ll wrap up by confessing to you that I’m a liar. I’ve been telling you over and over how we’re on show hiatus for the winter to save money. BUT. BUT. Trainer has some one-day rated shows she’s willing to go to so I can get points for Regionals early in the season before classes get huge. And the one-days are so much cheaper than the week-long ones (obvi). So this will save money in the long run!

We haven’t picked which one (or two or three) we’re going to do, but it looks like the move up to 1.10m is going to be in December or January. I’M SO EXCITED TO JUMP BIG JUMPS WITH THE FRANKFURTER.

What are some fun lateral-work exercises you like to use to keep your horse fit during the winter?